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Alberta losing its wage advantage under UCP

For years, Alberta has been known for having the highest wages in Canada. Under the UCP, however, Alberta has been on track to lose that status.

Earlier this month, Statistics Canada released data for hourly and weekly wages in Canada for March 2022, and I thought I’d look at how wages for Alberta workers looked last month.

First of all, Alberta workers had the highest average hourly wages of any province last month, sitting at $32.94. In fact, we were the only province above the $32 an hour mark, let alone nearly $33.

That being said, it’s not the highest we been, having hit $32.96 just the month before and even $33.07 this past November and $34.21 in April 2020.

Granted, that last one was probably influenced by the fact that part-time workers were laid off at the start of the pandemic and the only ones still getting paid were people on salary and working from home.

Here’s a look at average hourly wages for all the provinces last month:

AB$32.94
ON$31.51
BC$31.49
SK$30.37
QC$30.13
NL$28.83
MB$27.22
PEI$27.13
NB$26.88
NS$26.64

The national average is $30.92.

Now, Alberta having the highest average hourly wage does seem like a good thing.

But there are some interesting things that appear when we compare last month’s average wage with the average wage at other points in recent history.

For example, take a look at wages over the last two months.

Feb 2022Mar 2022Change
ON$31.73$31.51-$0.22
AB$32.96$32.94-$0.02
MB$27.19$27.22$0.03
NL$28.74$28.83$0.09
NB$26.79$26.88$0.09
QC$29.93$30.13$0.20
BC$31.19$31.49$0.30
NS$26.32$26.64$0.32
SK$29.89$30.37$0.48
PEI$26.43$27.13$0.70

Alberta was one of only two provinces that saw a decrease in wage growth between February and March. While the province as a whole saw an increase of 3¢ last month, Alberta saw a decrease of 2¢. That’s a 5¢ gap.

And it’s not much better if we look at wage growth over the past year.

March 2021March 2022Change
PEI$25.03$27.13$2.10
NB$24.98$26.88$1.90
QC$28.56$30.13$1.57
BC$30.37$31.49$1.12
SK$29.29$30.37$1.08
NL$27.77$28.83$1.06
ON$30.66$31.51$0.85
NS$25.83$26.64$0.81
AB$32.50$32.94$0.44
MB$27.01$27.22$0.21

While wages are better now than they were a year ago, Alberta had the second worst increase in wages since March 2021. We were one of only 4 provinces that saw wage growth below $1 and one of only two with wage growth below 50¢.

The average wage across Canada, on the other hand, increased by $1.03 an hour.

And that’s not all. Watch what happens when we chart the difference between Alberta’s hourly wage and Canada’s hourly wage over the last decade.

What we see here is that during the first 6.5 years or so, not only did Alberta have a higher wage than the national average, but the difference between the two kept steadily increasing.

However, since December 2018, that difference has been dropping. And while it had been normal to see differences between months, it never recovered, with November 2019 being $1.08 lower than it was the year before.

In fact, this past January, the difference between the national average hourly wage and Alberta’s hit its lowest point during the last 1o years: $1.55. At its peak in November 2018, the difference was $4.21.

And here’s what it looks like when we look at just the month of March over the last decade.

Over the last 3 years, the Alberta–Canada wage gap has been decreasing, with last month hitting the lowest level for any March since at least 2012.

Now, let’s explore wages by industry.

Here is the average hourly wage for each industry in March 2022.

Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas$49.19
Utilities$44.97
Public administration$41.91
Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing$39.28
Professional, scientific and technical services$38.91
Educational services$35.62
Manufacturing$35.22
Construction$34.92
Health care and social assistance$32.23
Transportation and warehousing$31.58
Other services (except public administration)$28.94
Information, culture and recreation$28.58
Wholesale and retail trade$25.76
Business, building and other support services$25.65
Agriculture$24.74
Accommodation and food services$17.92

And here’s how much it changed from February:

Feb 2022Mar 2022Change
Utilities$42.96$44.97$2.01
Fin., ins., real estate, rental & leasing$37.35$39.28$1.93
Information, culture & recreation$27.39$28.58$1.19
Agriculture$23.57$24.74$1.17
Manufacturing$34.35$35.22$0.87
Other services (except public admin.)$28.24$28.94$0.70
Health care & social assistance$31.57$32.23$0.66
Transportation & warehousing$30.95$31.58$0.63
Construction$34.45$34.92$0.47
Accommodation & food services$17.72$17.92$0.20
Bus., building and other support serv.$25.70$25.65-$0.05
Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil & gas$49.42$49.19-$0.23
Public administration$42.16$41.91-$0.25
Educational services$36.43$35.62-$0.81
Prof., scientific & technical serv.$39.79$38.91-$0.88
Wholesale & retail trade$26.67$25.76-$0.91

And compared to a year ago

Mar 2021Mar 2022Change
Fin., ins., real estate, rental & leasing$32.39$39.28$6.89
Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil & gas$44.69$49.19$4.50
Agriculture$21.54$24.74$3.20
Wholesale & retail trade$24.09$25.76$1.67
Prof., scientific & technical serv.$37.31$38.91$1.60
Construction$33.77$34.92$1.15
Manufacturing$34.17$35.22$1.05
Bus., building and other support serv.$24.85$25.65$0.80
Other services (except public admin.)$28.25$28.94$0.69
Health care & social assistance$32.17$32.23$0.06
Accommodation & food services$18.48$17.92-$0.56
Public administration$42.77$41.91-$0.86
Educational services$37.49$35.62-$1.87
Transportation & warehousing$33.75$31.58-$2.17
Information, culture & recreation$32.65$28.58-$4.07
Utilities$49.82$44.97-$4.85

I find it interesting that not only did the oil and gas sector (technically, combined with forestry, fishing, mining, and quarrying) not only had the highest average hourly wage last month, but it had the second highest wage increase over the last year.

So, even though Alberta’s fossil fuel sector employs tens of thousands fewer workers than it did at its peak, those that still remain are pretty well off.

Also, I wasn’t very surprised to see that hospitality workers were making he lowest hourly wage. Nor was I surprised that workers in this sector lost half a dollar in wages, on average, over the last year.

Now let’s look at wages for full-time workers and part-time workers.

First, full-time workers.

AB$35.49
BC$33.67
ON$33.64
SK$32.81
QC$32.12
NL$30.73
MB$29.49
PEI$28.80
NB$28.29
NS$28.23

As expected, Alberta has the highest full-time hourly wages, on average, in the country. And,full-time workers in the province are making nearly $2.50 an hour more than the average Canadian worker, who makes $33.05 an hour.

Over the past month, however, full-time workers in Alberta saw some of the lowest wage increases in the country.

Feb 2022Mar 2022Change
PEI$27.97$28.80$0.83
SK$32.22$32.81$0.59
BC$33.27$33.67$0.40
QC$31.90$32.12$0.22
MB$29.30$29.49$0.19
NS$28.05$28.23$0.18
AB$35.35$35.49$0.14
NB$28.16$28.29$0.13
NL$30.70$30.73$0.03
ON$33.93$33.64-$0.29

As we can see, Alberta saw the fourth lowest wage increase between February and March 2022, which itself was only 10¢ an hour more than the national average increase of 4¢ an hour.

PEI, which topped the list, saw an increase that was roughly 6 times that of Alberta’s.

And if we look at wage growth over the last year for full-time jobs, Alberta fares even worse.

Mar 2021Mar 2022Change
PEI$26.50$28.80$2.30
NB$26.30$28.29$1.99
QC$30.15$32.12$1.97
NL$29.18$30.73$1.55
SK$31.41$32.81$1.40
BC$32.38$33.67$1.29
ON$32.64$33.64$1.00
MB$28.70$29.49$0.79
AB$34.72$35.49$0.77
NS$27.58$28.23$0.65

PEI is still the top of the list, this time with an increase of $2.30 to the average hourly wage for full-time workers.

However, instead of being in 4th from last spot, Alberta is now in the second-to-last spot, and is one of only three provinces who saw the average full-time worker get a raise of less than $1 over the last year.

The national average wage increase was $1.28 an hour for full-time workers.

Now, part-time workers.

BC$22.89
AB$22.36
QC$21.31
ON$21.16
SK$20.45
MB$18.85
NS$18.84
PEI$18.68
NL$18.18
NB$17.96

When looking at only the average wage for March 2022, Alberta’s part-time workers made, on average, more than workers in any other province, other than those in British Columbia, who made a little more than 50¢ an hour more.

The national average for part-time workers last month was $21.36 an hour.

But when we compare March’s numbers to previous periods, Alberta’s part-time wages look less impressive.

Feb 2022Mar 2022Change
SK$20.03$20.45$0.42
NS$18.47$18.84$0.37
BC$22.75$22.89$0.14
MB$18.85$18.85$0.00
QC$21.38$21.31-$0.07
ON$21.29$21.16-$0.13
NB$18.28$17.96-$0.32
PEI$19.21$18.68-$0.53
AB$23.17$22.36-$0.81
NL$19.60$18.18-$1.42

Over the last month, Alberta was one of 6 provinces that saw the average hourly wage for part-time workers decrease. Plus, it saw the second largest decrease, dropping by nearly an entire dollar.

The national average hourly wage for part-time workers declined by 13¢. Alberta’s decline was over 6 times more than that.

March 2021March 2022Change
PEI$18.06$18.68$0.62
ON$20.55$21.16$0.61
SK$19.94$20.45$0.51
NS$18.35$18.84$0.49
QC$20.88$21.31$0.43
Canada$21.17$21.36$0.19
NB$18.01$17.96-$0.05
BC$23.15$22.89-$0.26
AB$22.80$22.36-$0.44
MB$19.63$18.85-$0.78
NL$20.81$18.18-$2.63

Alberta improves when we look at performance over the last year, but that improvement is modest. The province moved from second last to third last for year-over-year change, yet it still saw a drop in average wages for part-time workers of 44¢ an hour.

That’s not as bad as the drop they saw from February, it’s still worse than 7 other provinces, 5 of which actually saw wage increases.

The average part-time worker in Canada saw their wages increase by about 19¢ an hour over the last year, which is 63¢ better than the average Alberta part-time worker.

Finally, let’s look at wages by sex.

Keep in mind that Statistics Canada delineates only by male and female, so we have no data on how non-binary or gender-nonconforming workers fared.

Mar
2021
Feb
2022
Mar
2022
Month
change
Year
change
Males$36.26$37.63$37.79$0.16$1.53
Females$32.74$32.50$32.58$0.08-$0.16
Difference$3.52$5.13$5.21$0.08$1.69

Here, we see that last month, men in Alberta were making $37.79 an hour if they were working full-time. Women were making significantly less, at $32.58 an hour.

Compared to the previous month, both male and female workers saw wage increases, but hourly wages increased at twice the rate for male workers than that of female workers.

Over the last year, however, male workers saw an increase of more than $1.50 an hour. Female workers, however, saw their wages decrease by 16¢ an hour.

A year ago, the gap between male and female wages was $3.52 an hour. Now, it’s $5.21 an hour.

Here’s part-time wages by sex.

Mar
2021
Feb
2022
Mar
2022
Month
change
Year
change
Males$20.46$20.70$20.97$0.27$0.51
Females$23.79$24.20$22.95-$1.25-$0.84
-$3.33-$3.50-$1.98$1.52$1.35

Female part-time workers make more than male part-time workers, but that might be changing. Female workers made $1.98 more than their male counterparts last month; however, a year ago that gap was $3.33 and last month, it was $3.50.

Between February and March, female part-time workers saw they average hourly wage drop by $1.25 an hour, while male workers gor a 27¢ raise.

Likewise, over the last year, male part-time workers got an extra 51¢ an hour on their paycheques, but their female counterparts got an 84¢ an hour pay cut.

Finally, here’s how all the provinces compare regarding wages by sex.

First, by full-time workers over the last year:

MalesFemales
NL$1.75$1.25
PEI$3.49$1.06
NS$0.72$0.55
NB$1.55$2.42
QC$2.23$1.65
ON$1.33$0.62
MB$0.70$0.89
SK$1.28$1.54
AB$1.53-$0.16
BC$0.96$1.81

Since March 2021, males in Alberta who were working full-time saw their hourly wages increase at the fifth highest rate in the country. PEI was the highest, at $3.49 an hour.

Female workers in Alberta, however, were the only ones in the country that saw a wage cut over the last year. Females working full-time in every other province got a raise.

And here’s what it looked like for part-time workers over the last year:

MalesFemales
NL-$1.66-$3.35
PEI$0.63$0.50
NS$0.88$0.29
NB-$1.05$0.29
QC$0.00$0.64
ON$0.92$0.43
MB-$1.79-$0.27
SK-$0.13$0.87
AB$0.51-$0.84
BC-$0.33-$0.23

Male part-time workers saw the fourth largest pay increase over the last year, increasing by 51¢ an hour. Ontario had the largest, at 92¢, followed by Nova Scotia (88¢) and PEI (63¢).

For female part-time workers, however, Alberta dropped to second last place, ahead of only Newfoundland and Labrador, where they saw a drop of $3.35 since March 2021. Alberta’s was significantly lower, at an 84¢ drop. But even that was still quite a bit more than Manitoba, which was the next largest decline, at 27¢.

If this trend continues, Alberta may get its wish about not wanting to send so much to Ottawa, given that the money Ottawa gets from the provinces is based on wages and spending.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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